Once the “experiment” of startups and tech businesses, remote working has matured into a fully-formed working structure in its own right, adopted by a diverse range of industries worldwide. But as a companies encountering it for the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic will know, it’s not entirely without its teething problems.
How do you keep everyone on the same page when you’re in different countries? How can you collaborate when there’s a massive time zone between you? How do you foster a healthy company culture when you’ve never physically met half your team? These are just a few of the remote work challenges you'll need to solve. But they can be solved relatively easily with the right tools.
Here at Memory, we've been working remotely since our inception back in 2014. During that time, we've tried and tested a lot of different remote software, but only a few have really stuck that we just cannot live without. This article is our attempt to pull together the essential tools you need to set up a remote team. If you're specifically looking for remote communication tools, check out our deep-dive post reviewing virtual communication software.
Any remote team worth their salt needs a dependable way to video conference. For all our huge technological innovations, it’s been surprisingly hard to enjoy seamless video conferencing so far, but with Zoom it’s that bit easier. We’ve found it to be much more light-weight than Skype; quicker to set up, quicker to run and quicker to just get everyone on a call.
As you’d hope, it’s really easy to invite people to calls and share your screen, making Zoom ideal for meetings, demos and presentations. Because you can have up to 500 video participants (and 10,000 viewers!) at one time, it’s perfect if you’re a large company who’s planning on going remote.
Billed as a virtual office, Slack is pretty much integral to remote success – for our team, anyway. One of the biggest issues remote teams face is poor communication, but Slack solves many of these problems. Its clean interface means that setting up group conversations and individual video calls is quick and easy, so if you feel your remote team might benefit from some one-on-one chat and authentic eye contact, it’s only a few clicks away. We love Slack so much, we only use email when it’s absolutely unavoidable.
Sharing files and documents is also a breeze, there are clear paths for project communication, and if your team’s spread around the world, you won’t miss updates that occurred while you were sleeping. We set up Slack channels for every department within the team, as well as every project we’re working on – and then archive them once they’re done. It’s insanely useful for getting full company visbility of what’s going on, and quickly catching up on context when you’re pulled into helping on something unfamiliar.
Basecamp is another all-rounder, and this project management tool doubles as a hub for asynchronous communication. Basecamp is about helping everyone get on the same page, but it’s also a handy place to archive documents and keep all HR info (e.g. team member bios, holiday calendar, employee guide, company announcements, company results, etc.) in one accessible place. This multipurpose tool also excels at:
To-do lists: It’s easy to draw up to-do lists for your different projects, allocate tasks, and set dates. Basecamp automatically follows up on late tasks for you, too, and you can add notes and attachments and comment on tasks and lists.
Message boards: Trawling through emails or a series of disjointed comments will be a thing of the past, as Basecamp is smart enough to keep all relevant conversations together. You can embed photos or files into your comments, customize your post types, and share with as many or as few people as you want.
Scheduling: Every project features a schedule that highlights all significant dates for that job, keeping you on track. You can subscribe with either Google Calendar or Outlook, add events with dates and times (and notify attendees if that changes), and discuss upcoming events on the respective pages.
When the team’s spread around the world, you need to have a practical place to share and store files. The cloud-based Dropbox is great for this, and we find it really useful since we try to keep internal emailing to a minimum. Dropbox is incredibly simple to use: just drag and drop large files and docs, and play around with the settings; auto-sync transfers files while you sleep, so they’re ready when your teammates across the pond wake up.
Check out the useful “Paper” feature, too, which makes it easy for your team to share, edit and comment on documents from one place. We tried using Google Docs alongside it for a while, but have just caved into using Paper for the convenience of centralized documentation. To be fair, it also has a pretty similar feature set, even if both are not as rigorous or developed as desktop favorites like Word.
When you need to coordinate workloads, priorities and resources among your remote workers, it really helps that the product you’re building does exactly that. It will come as no surprise to learn that we use Timely to automatically track our hours and provide visibility over what we’re all doing. It helps project managers coordinate team resources and ensures everyone has a manageable workload – since busting your weekly capacity or doing overtime becomes immediately apparent.
Timely works by automatically tracking the time you spend on your work – no intrusive timers or notes needed. It provides everyone with a flawless digital record of each work day, that stays completely private to them. Aside from helping teams stay aligned, it helps each user visualize their productivity. The insights gleaned from our data also make it simpler to manage and structure our time, which is ridiculously important when there are fewer boundaries between work and personal space.
Teamwork is a powerful and feature rich project management platform, yet boasts an intuitive user interface and is very easy to use. One of the biggest challenges businesses face when looking for a project management tool to invest in is that different teams have different requirements, depending on the stage they are at in their growth. This is where Teamwork shines as it is designed to be “Powerful when you need it to be”, meaning as your team grows and your requirements become more complex you can utilize the more powerful features as needed.
It has many great features such as time tracking, multiple view format project tracking, the task management tracking feature is very good and allows project managers to monitor individual team member workloads so tasks can be managed and distributed effectively. Another great feature is the client permissions feature which allows for management of client permissions and access to things such as invoicing and time tracking, making it perfect for agencies.
It doesn’t matter what your company does – decent design is something every business needs to nail. With that in mind, there’s Zeplin; a neat tool that enhances communication between designers and developers, making it painless to share and collaborate on design systems and app interfaces.
Zeplin helps you stay organized, saves everyone time (meetings are cut in half!), and keeps everyone on the same page, no matter where they are. All team members can retrieve the newest design resources, add comments, and export designs in one click. The whole interface is stupidly easy to read, so even those unfamiliar with design know how to find and feed back on the information they need.
Think of Coda as a beautiful amalgamation of Basecamp and Dropbox. It merges the flexibility of a doc with all the organization and complexity of a spreadsheet, allowing you to effortlessly collaborate and neatly structure HR, project strategy and company documents.
Because you don’t have to constantly flit between different documents, apps or spreadsheets, your ideas can flow spontaneously and develop organically. Coda’s versatility means that it’ll likely become a regular addition to most remote teams, where people require access to shared data, but also need to view and use said data individually.
You’ll never have to worry about remembering passwords again – and you’ll certainly never have to take precarious steps like emailing passwords out to your entire team. 1Password gives you company-wide access to accounts and tools, remembering your passwords for you and storing them away safely until they’re needed.
As the name would suggest, you only need one company password to let everybody access account login details for all the tools you use. You can onboard new employees and quickly check out a summary of permissions, so it’s a great tool if you’re hiring new people and want to ensure smooth induction and equal access.